Sunday, June 7, 2015

WW1 Naval Battle of Zante (Flight of the Goeben)

I attempt to look knowledgeable, but Stacy and Sylvain are not buying it!

This week I ran a WW1 Naval game based on the infamous "Troubridge Decision".  This is a historical almost-was scenario (see the link Pursuit of Goeben and Breslau) based on a squadron of armoured cruisers commanded by Adm Troubridge that could have intercepted the German battlecruiser SMS Goeben early in the days of WW1.  Troubridge lost his bottle over night and shied away from the confrontation based on orders that allowed him to avoid superior forces.  Had he met the Goeben and slowed her down, a lot of recent history would have been altered.  However his squadron would have likely have been sunk in a straight up fight.

The game was fought using my 30 year old 1:3000 scale ships (Navwar mainly and some Skytrex) and the General Quarters 3 WW1 variant Fleet Action Imminent.  This was my first time using FAI although I have run GQ3 games several times.  Overall, I am not sure that the GQ system really fits WW1 as well as it fits WW2.  This may be to my inexperience with certain FAI nuances and differences from GQ3.   I may haul out my home brew faster play WW1 naval rules and do a refight.

The forces were as follows

  • The BC Goeben and her escort LC Breslau were steaming SE at 18kts with orders to escape to Constantinople.  Sylvain took the Goeben and Jeremy the Breslau.  The Goeben had injured boilers and had a maximum speed of 24kts and would be slow in getting above 21 kts.  Note that the Goeben was still the equal in speed to the British CAs and vastly superior in fire power, range and armour.
  • Curt took the role of Troubridge with 4 CAs (Defense, Black Prince, Duke of Edinburgh and Warrior).  I also gave Curt two Beagle class destroyers which with better planning would have been available to Troubridge.  Curt was 20,000 yrs (max visibility) from the Goeben heading SSW and on course to cross her T.
  • Stacy took the role of the pesky Kelly brothers with the LCs Gloucester and Dublin plus two more Beagle class DDs.  Historically Gloucester tailed the Goeben for days until her coal ran low.  Dublin and the DDs nearly intercepted the Goeben on the previous night but just missed.  Overall the two LC captains (the brothers Kelly) were the only British officers to do well during the whole fiasco.  Stacy was 20,000 yrs SW of the Goeben heading E and well out of sight of Troubridge.
  • Wind was light and variable, and a random die roll had it blowing from East to West initially and then SE to NW.
I didn't take notes for a full AAR, but highlights are as follows.
Stacy plots his move.

  • The Goeben kept her speed relatively low (21kts) and got very close to Troubridge in trying to scoot past to the North (to the stern of the British initially).  This was a surprise to me as I expected her to speed up and keep the range long to maximize her advantages.  
  • Smoke badly affected gunfire, as did the concentration of 2 or more CAs firing on one target.  it also hillariously affected German signalling.  The photos show Curt's wonderful smoke markers in play.
  • Stacy's forces were unable to fire being our of effective range for the whole game.  My apologies to Stacy and I am nervously anticipating the role I get assigned in his next scenario.
  • Gunfire was sporadically effective but deadly when it hit.  A single salvo wrecked the Defense, and narrowly avoided achieving the same result on the Duke of Edinburgh instead taking our her searchlights no less than three times.  In return, a few hits from the CAs wrecked the Breslau.  The Goeben also got close enough (6000yds) to let the Duke of Edinburgh take off a stern turret.
  • Curt's two destroyers got in close and Basilisk put a torpedo into the Goeben, thus ensuring a British victory.  The hit reduced her speed and took out the fore turret.  It also significantly reduced her value to German diplomacy.
  • The Germans were often signally directly up or down wind (i.e. into coal smoke).  The best signal was the one delivered to Jeremy advising him to "maneuver from X flank to Y flank" since every third word was lost in translation!
  • The Breslau was dead in the water and struck her flag surrounded by three CAs.  In reality I suspect sea cocks would be opened and the crew to take to the boats.
  • We ended up with Troubridge breaking off having hurt the Goeben and sunk the Breslau.  The Kelly brothers would resume their watch and call in the British BCs to the west and more DDs to finish the job.
  • Lesson  number 1:  the ship with the bigger guns needs to keep the range long.  It takes longer but has far fewer risks.
  • Lesson number 2:  don't let torpedo craft get any where near the big ships.  They can close awfully quickly.
  • Lesson number 3:  I need review the  FAI rules again, as I am sure that I did things incorrectly along the way.  Also we were all caught by surprise by the ineffectiveness of many of the lighter guns.
Photos from Curt's iPhone below.

Troubridge's cruisers and destroyers with Curt's oh-so-cool smoke markers.

Looks like we're in range.  Gone under the tape measure, with Breslau on her port quarter. Not sure if this is the X flank or the X flank.  Models are 1:3000 Navwar and nearly 30 years old.  They stand up reasonably well, but my ship labels did not.  Fine point marker over white out were state of the art in 1986.

Destroyers make their run.  The smoke markers are particularly effective here.

Troubridge's squadron steaming to the right side of the pic.  Warrior followed by Duke of Edinburgh, Black Price and Defense.

A hit!  Too bad our 9.2" guns can't penetrate at any range over 6000 yrs.  Or  too bad we didn't keep the range longer if you're German and it is later in the action.

HMS Warrior takes a pasting from the Goeben's 11" guns!


  1. Small bumps and grinds aside it was a great scenario Pete. I was surprised as you that the Goeben and Breslau did not try for maximum speed to get/maintain distance and let here superior guns do the talking. Again, it I found that it was the torpedoes that can really shift a game - one lucky hit an EVERYTHING changes. Historical and frightening.

    Personally I find FAI to be excellent for the period - perhaps once you've had a chance to fully reacquaint yourself with the variant you may feel the same. Nonetheless, it was a fun night of gaming (aided by a few bottles of red)!

    1. Thanks Curt
      I should've added lesson number 4: players rarely do what you expect them to, especially when one of the players is Sylvain. Everything goes better with red wine...although it does mean I lmisplace ships and game aids.
      Cheers, PD